Sunday, January 29, 2012

HYMN TIME #1: "Brethren We Have Met To Worship"

This is one of my very favorite Hymns. "Brethren we have met to worship" or Holy Manna, was first published in the Baptist Hymnal "The Columbian Harmony" [words by George Atkins, music by William Moore] way back in the Year of Our Lord 1825! To hear it today is to hear the very Spirit of the American Camp Meetings of nearly 200 years ago.  As Dr. James Sightler has noted, this hymn "echoes the blessings of the past while it faintly envisions, as through a glass darkly, the Great Things God has in store for us in a better and brighter world to come."

The version here, by a family group called The Seminole String Band, captures it perfectly! Take a listen:

"O come, let us sing unto the LORD: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation."
Psalm 95:1

Friday, January 27, 2012


In 1902 Sam Clemens was 67 years old and he and his alter ego Mark Twain were already safely lionized as "the Lincoln of our literature" [according to the oft-quoted assessment by William Dean Howells.]   His greatest literary achievements were all behind him to be sure, and he was by all accounts dogged by increasing depression and skepticism,  but he was still churning out cleverly crafted tales and essays which, amazingly enough, are mostly still worth reading today.

That same year he decided to return to the "mining camp" settings of his earliest  successes, and lampoon the current craze for mystery fiction all at once in one tersely entertaining novella called "The Double Barrelled Detective Story."

Now... I like old westerns of all kinds, and I was raised on Mark Twain [my father was an enormous fan-- his favorite book beside THE BIBLE was THE INNOCENTS ABROAD] so it was natural that, when scrolling through the free offerings on my new Kindle device I would jump at the chance to read this story.

"We ought never to do wrong when people are looking."

These are the very first words spoken in this detailed and complicated little story. Twain quickly introduces us to one Archy Stillman, the bastard son of a wronged woman who is blessed with superhuman olfactory senses -- basically a human bloodhound.

When he's sixteen, Archie's mother convinces him to find the trail of his biological father and then enact a scheme to elaborately wreak havoc on his life and reputation, all to fulfill her own pathological blood-lust for revenge.

Five years later, after Archy's quest has literally taken him around the world, he ends up in a mining camp in Denver, Colorado where the nephew of Sherlock Holmes [Yes, the Great Detective actually makes a cameo in this forgotten Twain classic] has murdered a man by blowing up his cabin. Holmes uses all of his bizarrely detailed scientific methods to reach a brilliant-- and totally preposterous-- conclusion, only to be completely disproven by humble Archy's common sense and amazing sense of smell.

If old Twain is known for any one thing above all else, it is probably his epic, legendary, and thoroughly American Irreverence, which is, all said, in fine form here.  In fact, if you are a huge fan of the Doyle tales of Holmes and Watson,  the fun the author has here just might make you cringe.  I guess it figures that a world-class hater of pomp and snobbery like Twain would have no patience for a mastermind like Sherlock, and this may just be the earliest "Holmesian pastiche" to derive its humor entirely from painting the world's favorite consulting sleuth as a glorified and duly worshiped blowhard, idiot and fascist megalomaniac. [The portrayal here reminded me most of the Michael Caine movie version in the 1994 revisionist classic WITHOUT A CLUE.]

As usual with Twain, the plot is convoluted and relies heavily on coincidence, but these are hardly even negatives at this stage-- they are now more like essential  elements we expect as part of the charm of this greatest of American Authors.

All in all I recommend it.  It never fails to entertain... and more than once it even made me chuckle as I read it.  Also it contains some great  prose and really evocative frontier descriptions.

I give it 4 stars out of 5.


Thursday, January 19, 2012


Here is the inside front cover of Dell's SERGEANT PRESTON [Four Color #344, 1951]  I don't have much use for it here in AZ, but it was too cool not to pass on... MUSH!


The late, great Donald Westlake was the undisputed King of the "Comic Caper Novel"... and his books about unlucky master thief John Dortmunder form probably the only truly and consistently "laugh out loud" mystery series in publishing history. I suppose the fans of these stories will always have their favorites, and mine remains the 1974 classic JIMMY THE KID.

Here is a good description of the main character from the "THRILLING DETECTIVE" website:

"The thing about Dortmunder is that he's a genius, a certifiable criminal mastermind. He's also the world's unluckiest crook -- no matter how careful his schemes, no matter how brilliant and elaborate and intricately plotted, right down to the (almost) last detail, something always goes wrong. No wonder Dortmunder, already a two-time loser, is plagued by worry. And it doesn't help that his usual co-horts are, uh, more than a little eccentric. And not exactly the brightest Crayolas in the box."

In this entry Dortmunder and his gang have been inspired by a real crime novel, CHILD HEIST, actually written by Westlake himself under his Pseudonym Richard Stark as part of the famous hard-boiled Parker series! They use the novel-- acquired by one of the inept gang members during a prison stretch-- as a kind of a guidebook, attempting to follow it step by step and commit their crime in the same smooth, professional way that Parker does. Westlake has a great deal of fun with his Stark "alter-ego" in this novel, and even includes a few actual excerpts from CHILD HEIST, which are uniformly followed by Dortmunder and gang’s bungling attempts to imitate it.

Nothing [of course] goes quite as planned, and DW derives a great deal of amusement out of actually damaging the mystique of his Stark "self" by repeatedly pointing out how many things just happen to go Parker’s way in fiction... and what would inevitably happen if things were just a little more real and different.

This book on the whole is VERY amusing-- I guarantee you will laugh out loud several times-- and a couple of moments (such as the actual kidnapping in particular) are extremely funny. Folks who aren’t familiar with Westlake’s classic series are in for a real treat if this is their introduction, and Dortmunder fans who have missed it somehow should acquire a copy ASAP!.

Highly recommended. PEACE. 

[An artists conception of the Dortmunder gang]

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Albie's note: Vance Havner [1901-1986] was an amazing Baptist Preacher and writer. This North Carolinean started preaching at 14 [!], and didn't stop til he went to glory! That alone is a great legacy, but Uncle Vance also preached some of the greatest messages I have ever heard and read. By all accounts he was among the most homespun of country preachers, possessing a southern charm that always belied his great intellect and persuasive power. A preacher friend of mine has said it well: "Old Vance was half Charles Spurgeon and half Billy Sunday with the voice and style of a Will Rogers."  I wish I coulda met him! 

 The following autobiographical selection from the book THE BEST OF VANCE HAVNER forms a great introduction to this good ol' man of God... enjoy!

by Vance Havner
When Abraham's servant started out to look for a wife for Isaac, he prayed for divine guidance. He needed it. A man looking for a wife for himself needs all the light he can get. This man was looking for a wife for somebody else! Later on he said, "I being in the way, the Lord led me..." (GENESIS 24:27).

This is my testimony from the summit of the years. I would change that little chorus a bit and sing, "My Lord led the way through the wilderness; all I had to do was to follow."

I grew up in the North Carolina hills. From our front porch we could see at night the lights of five little towns. From the back porch one could see Grandfather Mountain, Table Rock, an companion peaks standing like sentinels along the western skyline. My home community was called Jugtown because in the early years there were little shops up and down the road where the potters wrought vessels of clay. I lived the simple, happy life of an old-fashioned country boy. I tramped the woods with a shepherd dog. There was plenty of outdoors, and all the plain joys of rustic youth uncushioned by modern conveniences. It would drive a teen-ager frantic these days but I thrived on it.

Father was an austere but devout Christian, the pastor's right-hand man at old Corinth Baptist Church. The country preachers always stayed at our house on Saturday before the fourth Sunday in each month, when they came by horse and buggy to preach the monthly sermon. Some of those sermons were long enough to last a month and sounded more like filibusters-but it was sound preaching. Father always let me sit up late on those Saturday nights, before the open fire, and listen to him and the minister talk about the things of God. It beat all the television that has been seen since.

Father should have been a preacher. Two of his brothers did preach; one as a Baptist, the other as a Methodist. Mother was a gentle, kindly soul content to be a housewife. Her life as a "keeper at home" would be anathema to the emancipated woman of today.

I grew up with a Bible in one hand a bird book in the other. Pilgrim 's Progress. Foxe's Book of Martyrs, and a set of good classical literature formed our library. I never knew the day when I did not feel that I should preach and write. I memorized Bible portions, made little Sunday School talks, and sent my first "sermon" to our small-town newspaper when I was nine.

When I was ten, I professed faith in Christ. A revival was in progress at Corinth Church, but I came to Jesus alone in the woods. Always following an unbeaten path, I did not got to the mourner's bench as the custom was, but made my decision in a solitary place. There was no dramatic experience such as some can relate; I came as a child in simple trust. I did not understand all about the plan of salvation. I do not understand all about electricity, but I don't intend to sit in the dark until I do.

I was baptized in the South Fork River and a year later I asked the church to license me to preach. I began with a talk at the First Baptist Church of Hickory, twelve miles from my home. I have been in bigger towns and churches since, but none looked as large as did Hickory that night. Dad and I went over in an early Ford with thirty horsepower-twenty of them dead. I stood on a chair and spoke while the pastor of the church stood on one side and the state evangelist stood on the other: like Aaron and Hur holding up the hands of Moses.

For several years I preached on Sundays in town and country churches as a boy preacher. Of course, crowds came out of curiosity. Then I went to a Baptist boarding school called South Fork Institute. I was not a star student, but often sat listening to a bird singing outside rather than to a professor teaching on the inside. I went next to what is now Gardner-Webb College. It was during the First World War. We were singing Tipperary and Over There, and girl students wept as boy friends left for camp and for France to make the world safe for democracy. It hasn't been safe for anything since.

The principal of this school advised me, one day, to blaze my own trail instead of following the prescribed course of ministerial training. He told me that I was no genius, but would do well to follow an unbeaten path. I went on to Catawba College for a year, then to Wake Forest. I was restless and wanted to preach. One day, I packed my belongings and left. A professor saw me at the railroad station and said, "Young man, you'll regret this." I haven't regretted it yet. I am not advising others to follow that course, but I believe it was best for me.

I started preaching again, but without guidelines or precedent for my kind of ministry. I made many mistakes, went up blind alleys and dead-end streets. I took a rural pastorate in eastern North Carolina. I became somewhat enamored of the liberal approach which was beginning to gain favor. It did not become malignant in my case, but I did have enough of the virus in my system to preach popular sermons that convicted nobody. The unbelievers liked my preaching and I had a good crowd, but many of them died unsaved under my ministry.

I resigned after one year and returned to my old home in the hills. Father died that winter, leaving mother and me with a grocery store which was robbed and burned one night. The Lord made it clear to my heart that if I would preach the old message I had proclaimed as a boy, He would make a way for me. I remember reading J. Gresham Machen's Christianity and Liberalism out in the woods to my great profit. I returned to the old message, and the first thing I had to do was go back to my country pastorate and preach it for three years. I studied my Bible, tramped the country roads, and laid a good foundation for the years to come. No preacher has had complete preparation who has not been pastor of a country church. It still affords, even in this insane age, some opportunity for meditation and reflection in solitude, that lost art of the modern ministry.

From 1934 to 1939, I was pastor of the oldest Baptist Church in the South, the First Church of Charleston, S.C. I shall always treasure those five years in that quaint, historic old city. Many blessed experiences were mine, especially a stirring of my heart as to the filling of the Holy Spirit. I was brought to a new dimension by reading Deeper Experiences of Famous Christians.

In my country pastorate, I had written my first book, By the Still Waters. I wrote for the Charlotte Observer and for religious publications. One of them, Revelation, edited by Donald Grey Barnhouse of Philadelphia, was helpful in opening doors up north for Bible Conferences. Moody Bible Institute's Founder's Week, Winona Lake, Montrose, Maranatha, Pinebrook, Canadian Keswick, and on the West Coast, the Torrey Conference in Los Angeles, Mount Hermon and many more, eventually appeared on my itinerary. "I being in the way, the Lord lead me." No man with God's message need politick, nor pull wires, nor sit hunched over cafeteria tables making contacts, nor wait for some talent scout to find him. He need not chase key men around, if he knows the Keeper of the keys!

So many calls came that I left Charleston and took to the road in 1940. I was in a low state physically, for I had been suffering from nervous exhaustion for two years, and a traveling ministry seemed the last thing a preacher in my condition should undertake. It meant getting adjusted and yet never getting adjusted week after week to different beds, food, climates, environment, and continually rising to the occasion. Yet the way had opened, and I could only go forward.

My first engagement was with the Mel Trotter Mission Bible Conference in Grand Rapids. I got as far as Chicago, came down with the flu, and wound up in a hospital. The devil sat on the foot of the bed and laughed at my discomfiture. The doctor told me to go south. I wired the Florida Bible Institute and accepted an invitation I had declined earlier. There I recuperated, and met a gracious little lady who became my wife and has meant more to me than anyone else on earth. The Lord knew I needed to go south instead of north! Also, in that school I met a lean, lanky student by the name of Billy Graham. we had our pictures taken on the campus. Twenty years later, we posed for another snapshot. What God wrought in twenty years!

I married Sara Allred in 1940, and we took to the road. I could write a book on how the Lord has made a way for us without any conniving on my part. I have seen doors open that I couldn't have pried loose with a crowbar. I have no organization and have never prepared even a brochure for publicity, yet I could have kept another man busy with calls I could not accept. Satan tried to tell me that nobody would stand for my kind of preaching, and that I would starve to death. I look like I'm starving, but I eat three meals a day. I am often reminded of Will Rogers. During the depression of the thirties, when college graduates were walking the streets looking for work, Will was making a good living in his homely way. One day he said to a friend, "It's dinner time and I ain't et." His friend suggested, "You mean you haven't eaten." Will replied, "I notice that a lot of people who haven't eaten ain't et!"

From Bible conferences all over the country, and from church revivals, I gradually became occupied almost full time with my own denomination, the Southern Baptists. I had been a Southern Baptist since I was a boy, except for a brief time when I was a member of First Baptist, Minneapolis, Minnesota, while Dr. W. B. Riley was pastor. Dr. Riley baptized my wife who had been of the Quaker persuasion. I was on a program with Dr. W. A. Criswell of First Baptist, Dallas, in a conference held in the old Baptist Tabernacle of Atlanta, Georgia. Later, I was invited to the Texas Evangelistic Conference for 1949, meeting in First Baptist Church of Dallas. Thus began a new field of ministry in evangelistic conferences, as well as church revivals, all over the convention.

A serious illness in 1960 almost took my life. After major surgery, a blood clot brought me to the door of death. A fine Christian nurse sat by my bed all that night, at her own request, praying and watching. Prayers went up all over the country form Moody Bible Institute to the Florida Baptist Evangelistic Conference where I was to have been speaking. Billy Graham called my wife that night from Miami to say, "We had prayer for Vance and I told my wife that I believed the Lord would let Vance live awhile longer to prepare sermons for the rest of us to preach!" The Lord definitely healed me, and after five months out of the pulpit, I started again in First Baptist of Houston, Texas.

Today, after twenty-seven years on the road, fifty-two years in the ministry, and twenty books, I can only marvel at the way God has gone before me in this journey from Jugtown.

Abraham's servant, when he found the wife for Isaac, was invited to linger ten days, but he said, "Hinder me not, seeing the Lord hath prospered my way..." (GENESIS 24:56). I am resolved to make that reply when any subtle suggestion arises to take it easy and relax on my heavenly errand. When God has prospered man's way, he had better be on his way!

All the way my Saviour leads me.
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy
Who through life has been my Guide?

Retirement age is supposed to mean that I should sit in a rocking chair, wait for my social security check, and reminisce about the good old days. I have no thought of retiring. I would say with Caleb, "... give me this mountain... "! (JOSHUA 14:12). I am not asking for molehills. Old soldiers need not fade away. I have asked like Hezekiah for an extension of time; like Jabez, for an enlargement of coast; like Elisha, for an endurement of power. Caleb did not suffer, like the ten frightened spies, from a grasshopper complex. Too many cowards are cringing before the giants of Anak.

God give us Calebs looking for mountains to conquer!

Taken from The Best Of Vance Havner, Fleming H. Revell Company (1969) 



Friday, January 13, 2012

Remembering My First L'Amour: "BRIONNE"

If you're a typical Louis L'Amour fan, I already know a couple things about you.

First, you've read more of his books his books than you could possibly recount without some serious thought... and second, there was a first book you by read him that got ya hooked out of the gate.

For me the book was BRIONNE, first published in 1968; a Bantam paperback original with an attractive painted cover  [Mine was, I think, the exact edition pictured above.]

Although it's never listed as one of Louis' best books, it was still a great introduction the man's work.  The fast paced story concerns a westward trek made by a typical L'amour hero [Major James Brionne] and his son Mat, who are-- of course-- being pursued by some bad guys from Brionne's past.  Along the way there are 2  mysterious strangers [one male, one female]; some great frontier wisdom imparted from father to son; and a pretty well-written prairie fire sequence.

When I say Brionne is a typical L'Amour hero, I mean that he is well-read, well-educated, an army veteran, and has a strong sense of his own ancestry [In this case the forebears are french, which was-- of course-- somewhat autobiographical for Louis himself.]

I agree with Harlan ellison that what really set Louis aside from all the other competition was his often under-rated writing style, which always conveyed a straight-froward sense of courage and wisdom.  Brionne is just plain good company.

All in all, a great read even... when I peruse it today.  

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Albie's note: When was the last time you heard a sermon preached against anger and the abject loss of one's temper?  More often I have instead heard pulpit references to my right to righteous anger, as if The Bible had nothing to say against losing my temper like a spoiled child. 

Well. old Billy Sunday preached about it!  In fact, here is one of his favorite verses:

"Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools."


 “I have only two minutes more and then I am through. Bad temper.

"You abuse your wife and you abuse your children; and you lady, abuse your husband; turn your old Gatling-gun tongue loose.

"A lady came to me and said, 'Mr. Sunday, I know I have a bad temper, but its ok, I am over with it in a minute.' So is the shotgun, ma'am, and it blows everything to pieces!

"And then, finally, you abuse the telephone girl because she doesn't connect you in a minute. Bad temper.

"I see you abuse your wife, you go cussing around if supper isn't ready on time; cussing because the coffee isn't hot; you dig your fork into a hunk of beefsteak and put it on your plate and then you say: 'Where did you get this, woman, in the harness shop? Take it out and make a hinge for the door!'

"Then, rascal, you go to your store, or office, and smile and everybody thinks you are just an angel about to sprout wings and fly to the imperial realm above.  Hypocrite!

"Bad temper! You growl at your children; you snap and snarl around the house until they have to go to the neighbors to see a smile. They never get a kind word - no wonder so many of them go to the Devil quick.”

SOURCE: Billy Sunday, The Need for Revivals, From "Billy Sunday: The Man and His Message," by William T. Ellis, Philadelphia: John C. Winston Co., 1914


Thursday, January 5, 2012

5 Unusual Westerns You Might Like...


I got my copy of this "graphic novel" in a comic book store in Mesa AZ around 1997.  I think it cost about 6 bucks and I am right glad I hung on to it... 'cuz used copies at Amazon are starting around $134!!   I don't know why in the world it is that valuable but I DO know I love it for what it is... awesome entertainment!

Basically it is a reprint of a story arc of the Dan Spiegel - drawn comic strip that came out during the "Hoppy boom" of the early '50s.  The "script" is credited to Republic serial writer Royal Cole and it's a great sequential tale about Hoppy and sidekick "Mesquite" pursing five psychotic hillbillies to a dramatic-- and surprisingly violent-- conclusion.

Great if you can find it [and have no fear... I found a couple different offers for less than 10 bux with a little deeper web search.]

[also published as PARSON JOHN]

This is a great "Christian Western" first published by Moody Press back in 1942.  It is a surprisingly well-rendered and frank picture of the working life of a preacher in the lawless Sand Hills region of Nebraska Territory just after the Civil War.  The lead character Pastor John Woodring [a fictionalization of the author's real-life grandfather] is presented as a sincere but driven man of faith who fights corruption, murder, subjugation of womenfolk, and even his own doubts through a quick moving narrative.

This book is written in a straightforward style that makes it suitable for reading aloud to children.  It actually deals with some mature subject matter [prostitution is one example] but does so in a thoroughly tasteful style.  Great little read.


This overlooked gem of a movie was completely new to me when I saw it last night DVR'd from the Turner Movie channel [Praise God for DirectTV!]

Made the year I was born, this western "dramedy" is the delightful tale of a savvy old frontier codger [played beautifully by the great Buddy Ebsen] who who pressures the wild son of his dead friend into marrying a mail-order bride in an attempt to settle the crazy youth down a notch.  Much hilarity ensues.

That short description may make it sound pretty run-of-the-mill, but an amazing cast-- and expert direction from no less a hand than Burt Kennedy-- really elevate this charming piece of Americana to a special level.

Plus it features Denver Pyle as a wacky preacher man... bonus!

4. REBEL SPURS by Andre Norton

Sci-fi legend Mary Alice Norton wrote this oater back in '50s and as far as I know it is her only true western.  She should've written more.

This sequel to her civil war novel Ride Proud, Rebel finds hero Drew Currie involved in horse racing, horse stealing and a pretty good mystery in 1860s Arizona!  As a plus for me it all takes place in my home county [Santa Cruz Co. on the Mex border!] and Norton's research into period setting and detail is highly impressive.   Great coming-of-age element involved too.


Finally we have my all time favorite movie... and I mean that sincerely.

B-western great Harry Carey turns in the bittersweet performance of a lifetime as aging outlaw Dean Payton, and Hoot Gibson is unbelievably funny as a cynical young cowpoke. This is a smart, greathearted western that will please just about anybody. I have shown it to a score of friends so far and NONE have failed to LOVE it.

This one I cannot recommend highly enough.  Look it for it on VHS... sadly, the DVD has yet to appear.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012



In 1964 Del Shannon was one of the few American artists still riding high in the wake of the so-called "British Invasion."  He had scored a big hit with his self-penned "Keep Searchin'" [classic] and many English acts publicly considered him a precursor and a major influence. Why, at this critical point, he would decide to record an album of Hank Williams covers-- a project that seems in hindsight to have almost obviously been doomed to financial failure--  is anyone's guess.

I gotta tell ya, though, I am glad he did it.   

Del [1934-1990], a Michigan native who had enjoyed a string of driving, vocally charged hits though the early sixties, may not have seemed like the guy to sing "Kaw-Liga" and "Your Cheatin' Heart," but he made them strangely his own, believe you me!

I first found this album on vinyl at PDQ Records in Tucson back about 1985 or so, and it has long been one of my "guilty pleasure" lifetime selections. Click on the Youtube sample below to hear my very favorite cut, the amazing "Ramblin' Man."  

Tell me if that man couldn't flat rip apart an old country classic!

Album cuts
"Del Shannon – Sings Hank Williams" 1964
01. You Cheating Heart (3:07) 02. Kaw-Liga (3:08) 03. I Can't Help It (2:35) 04. Honky Tonk Blues (2:21) 05. Lonesome Whistle (2:17) 06. You Win Again (3:12) 07. Ramblin' Man (3:23) 08. Hey Good Looking (2:36) 09. Long Gone Lonesome Blues (2:13) 10. Weary Blues (From Waitin') (3:18) 11. I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry (2:58) 12. Cold Cold Heart (2:47)

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Jack Keller HOT ROD classic!

Albie's note:  I like to fit scripture into my blogs any ol' way I can, but what can ya do when the blog in question is a scan of a groovy Charlton "Hot Rod" comic from the 1960s drawn by the great Jack Keller?

Oh wait, I think I found a strangely appropriate verse!

"The chariots shall rage in the streets, they shall justle one against another in the broad ways: they shall seem like torches, they shall run like the lightnings." -- Nahum 2:4 :)

Charlton car comics weren't just fun to look at, they were always cautionary morality plays, too.  Keller had 3 pretty interchangable heroes in these comics [Scot Jackson, Rick Roberts and today's star Clint Curtis] who took time during various high speed adventures to instruct readers about fair play, auto safety and personal responsibility.   In today's selection, our erstwhile heroes [Curtis and some good clean-cut Americans from the Road Knights car club] dispense a most valuable four-color lesson:  Taking what belongs to others is not only wrong, it could very well land you in "Jailsville," man!

So... without further ado, here are
[Charlton, 1966]

Another scripture comes to mind at the end of our tale:

"Let him that stole steal no more!" -- Ephesians 4:28a